Why did Jaimie and Rita Joe move to the big city?
Jaimie and Rita followed the promise of work and opportunity that urban centers have historically offered to poor and working-class people. Their move away from their reservation is a symbolic one, as it indicates 1) how little opportunity there was for them there, and 2) alienation from their familial ties. Historically, Indigenous peoples in Canada were given land that was difficult to cultivate and farm. By the 1970s, this social cleavage had put them a disadvantageous position politically, economically, and socially, and many Indigenous people lived in conditions of poverty. Unfortunately for those who decided to move into the cities, life was harsh and opportunities were few, as they faced the same discrimination and poverty that they did on their reservations.
Why is Rita Joe sentenced for a variety of crimes over the course of the play?
Ryga attempts to build a narrative that is not solely about Rita's crime. In the play, doubt is cast upon the accusations that are leveled against the protagonist, and even when they are related to a crime that Rita has committed, she tells of her own powerlessness in committing the act, as when she is arrested for sex work and tells of her reluctance and distress in participating in it. This non-specificity helps demonstrate how the system is stacked against people like Rita, who cannot catch a break, and whose precarious economic situation leads to their exploitation by white society. The reality is that any charge could have been made against Rita and she would not have had the resources to defend herself from it. She is stuck in a cycle of poverty and incarceration.
What do the tensions between Rita's father and Jaimie tell of the political climate of the 1970s?
Rita's father and Jaimie fight about the steps Indigenous communities should take in order to improve their political and social situation in Canada. Jaimie embodies a younger and more revolutionary thought process and activism, one that openly resists an unfair system of oppression. Rita's father embodies an older perspective that focuses on individual achievement and reliance on certain structural organizations, such as the church.
In which contexts does the racism of the white characters emerge? Are they aware of their own prejudice? Do they justify thinking the way that they do?
The Magistrate and Mr. Homer are two racist individuals who are placed in positions of power over the Indigenous characters. They both hold racist notions about the ability of this population to progress. The Magistrate believes that the Indigenous population has been given the opportunities they need to improve their status, but that it is a failure of the community itself that they do not take advantage of these resources. His thoughts on these things emerge when he condemns Rita to jail and later again when he condemns her to death. Mr. Homer positions himself as a resource for the Aboriginal community, but he maintains a racist opinion about the abilities of the community he purports to serve. Mr. Homer's racism emerges in his interactions with Rita, Jaimie, and the Young Indian Men.
How does sex relate to the title and message of "The Ecstasy of Rita Joe"?
Sex work is the crime that the play opens upon, as Rita has been caught by four undercover cops selling sex for money. It is made clear through the witnesses at Rita's trial that this was not something she enjoyed or even wanted to do, so the title of the play becomes an ironic commentary on how the power structure interprets and criminalizes these actions of survival. She is quickly and easily condemned as a "whore," and it is this identity that many of the white characters, including the Priest, come to understand her as. At the end of the play, the Murderers rape Rita after killing her. Sex, already taken from Rita, becomes violence inflicted upon her.